Monday, August 3, 2020

Newly Widowed Grief Counselor Seeks Advice

[Reviewed and updated February 8, 2021]

A bend in the road is not the end of the road…unless you fail to make the turn.  
~ Helen Keller

A reader writes: I am a hospice bereavement counselor, and as you can imagine, things have been difficult since the sudden, unexpected death of my husband. I had to close up his business which will be going on for a bit longer. I have one son away at college and a younger son who is still here with me in high school. There are a zillion decesions each day but I try to take it as slowly as I can get away with. 

I returned to work about a month ago. I don't have a lot of reserve, so I am only in about four hours a day. I see all my clients at the office and find one on one works but the paper work is difficult. Probably because there is so much to do at home! I live in a small town and everyone knows. So now that I am single I have to deal with the male clients hoping I will go out with them. My hospice wants me to move into more of a consulting area and teach bereavement at our other sites. I may start with that in the Fall, as I just don't have the motivation right now.

I have met many people who go into bereavement work because of a death, but what do professionals do when they have this happen and this is what they do already? My father had also just died. I don't want to not be there for my families but it is hard to know how I am doing. I am teaching a group of pastors in town and they said they hadn't noticed any difference in my presentation. Do you have any thoughts? I don't have to work but I love working. This has to be the worst job in the world to return to after losing a spouse.

Another difficult thing is to get stopped at work and given tons of advice. I have now been doing this for twenty-plus years, they know what I do, and yet they will weigh me down with all their shoulds.

Maybe after Springbreak it would be best to change to a more consulting type position? 

My response: My heart just aches for you, and I wish I could wave a magic wand that would fix it and make it all better ~ but of course we both know that is impossible and ridiculous.

You say your hospice wants you to move into more of a consulting and teaching role, but you just don't have the motivation right now. I can't imagine how you would have the energy or the motivation to do anything different from what is most familiar to you right now.

You ask what other bereavement professionals do when a death like this happens to them. That's a very good question, and as you continue to find your own way through this, I'm sure the day will come when you'll be in a position to answer it ~ and who knows? One day you may write a book of your own on that very subject, or develop a support group for professionals who find themselves in the same position as you are in right now. I know that as you continue to search for whatever meaning you will find in this terrible loss, in the process you will discover your own answer to that question because you are living it, and one day you will know what you want to do with whatever you have learned.

You've asked if I have any thoughts about your continuing to do the work you're doing. I think you must do whatever brings you comfort. Regardless of our circumstances, because we all are human beings dealing with our own issues, I don't think any one of us is capable of being the "perfect" bereavement counselor for every one of our clients 100% of the time ~ but we try. I'm sure you're bringing the best that you have to offer, and you're doing your very best to keep your focus on your clients during whatever time you are with them. If right now your best isn't as good as you want it to be, or as good as it used to be, or as good as you hope it will be in the future, that is understandable under the circumstances ~ but take comfort in knowing that whatever you are capable of bringing to your clients right now is still good enough and probably better than most. I suspect that you've been doing this long enough that you can do it almost effortlessly, and that may be why you're able to continue doing it now. It also may explain why you're reluctant to go in another direction that is less familiar to you right now.

Your story reminds me of the benefits of being among colleagues. At the hospice where I worked for 17 years, the bereavement staff was a group of diverse and wonderful people, and I always felt embraced and supported by all of them. One woman on our staff became a bereavement counselor after her husband died, and she is simply a delightful and wonderful person, funny and warm and savvy and capable and very, very good as a grief counselor.  I did not know much about her personal life until she asked to sit in on my pet loss support group one Saturday, and during the introductions she calmly disclosed to the group that two years earlier she had lost her beloved golden retriever, just six months after her husband had died. I fell in love with her instantly, and I've loved her ever since.  If you're interested in contacting her via e-mail, please let me know, and I will put you in contact with her. I'm sure she would welcome you with warmth, empathy and love.

I also hope that, even though you live in a small town, you aren't depriving yourself of reaching out for help with your own grief.  Especially on the Internet, nowadays there are many alternative ways to obtain the support you need and deserve ~ anonymously and in complete confidence.  For example, you might consider joining an online grief support group such as one of the forums in our Grief Healing Discussion Groups. Because you register with a screen name of your own choosing and a secret password, your identity and your privacy are protected, and no one knows who you are unless you want them to know.  Just a thought . . .

In any event, my dear, please know that I am thinking of you and holding you in my heart, and I hope you will let me hear from you from time to time.

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Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 
© by Marty Tousley, RN, MS, FT, BC-TMH

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